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Health equity: Weaving intentionality into health system operations

From left, Donn Spight, M.D., and Kat Phillips take on new roles at OHSU that are inspired by the work of the Vaccine Equity Committee. (Courtesy)
From left, Donn Spight, M.D., and Kat Phillips take on new roles at OHSU that are inspired by the work of the Vaccine Equity Committee. (Courtesy)

The Vaccine Equity Committee (VEC) was an integral part of Oregon Health & Science University’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, a new OHSU Health leadership structure will provide the foundation for ensuring that the work of the VEC, along with other health equity-focused efforts, continues in perpetuity and becomes an intentional part of how the institution delivers health care.

Donn Spight, M.D., has been appointed vice president for health equity and Kat Phillips, M.H.A., has been appointed director of health equity operations. Dr. Spight stepped into his role in November 2022 and Ms. Phillips has been serving in her role since Fall of 2021. These new roles are inspired by the work of the VEC and created with the support of OHSU executive and health care mission leaders.

The need for trust among patients, community-based organizations, and community and OHSU leaders — a key strategy of the VEC — will continue to be vital to OHSU’s collective progress in creating a system for health equity.

OHSU’s health equity unit lean heavily on community engagement: developing a shared vision for health equity with input from community groups; and listening to the community first before building solutions. Throughout this work, OHSU will use the Oregon Health Authority definition of health equity, which complements OHSU’s efforts to create a diverse and inclusive environment, as articulated in the OHSU 2025 Strategic Plan and anti-racism action plan.

On-the-ground leadership team

Both Dr. Spight and Ms. Phillips have been steadfast leaders within the VEC and have helped build momentum for weaving health equity into all missions of OHSU.

Dr. Spight, who is also professor of surgery in the OHSU School of Medicine, will continue serving veterans in his role as staff general and laparoscopic surgeon at the Portland VA Medical Center.

 “I was deeply impacted by the opportunity to co-lead the VEC and it has become a transformational inflection point in my professional identity,” Dr. Spight said. “My intent, along with executive leaders, is to ingrain health equity into the fabric of our collective identity, as it is a necessary component of excellent, effective health care delivery.”

Ms. Phillips has been a proven leader in the VEC, and has helped design and operationalize complex clinical models in rural and community settings while working with competing priorities, limited resources, and extremely limited timelines.

Prior to this role, Ms. Phillips was the clinical practice manager for the OHSU Spine Center and is a former program manager for Learning and Organizational Development and Employee Engagement at OHSU. Ms. Phillips is also adjunct faculty in the Division of Management, and since 2021, has taught the Program Management in Healthcare course for OHSU’s Master of Science in Healthcare Administration.

Health equity takes a village

Knowing that health equity is a huge undertaking, with numerous activities already underway across the institution, Dr. Spight and Ms. Phillips will work closely with stakeholders from the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, OHSU Health, OHSU School of Medicine, the Office of Primary Care and Population Health, the Office of Health Services and Health Share of Oregon, the Center for Evidence-Based Policy, the Office of Strategic Outreach, Community Relations and more to meet OHSU’s health equity goals. These health equity leaders — backed by a cadre of colleagues devoted to the work — will help OHSU earn and retain trust and, ultimately, make a change.

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